A group of trendy celebrants crowd around a table filled with platters of cut-up cheese and a few open bottles of wine. They sip. They schmooze. They nibble. Occasionally, they exclaim, and not infrequently, they sigh.
This is what contemporary hosts are favoring – but with a twist on parties of the past.
These days, not just any wine or cheese will do. With a nod to the locavore movement, area party throwers are spotlighting local or regional artisanal pairings.
Terry Richardson, owner of 5 Loaves catering company in Auburn, is on the knife edge of the trend. She and her husband, Michael, closed their Cheesemanstore in Auburn on May 31 because of family considerations. But as a caterer, she continues to arrange pairing parties for individuals, businesses and fundraisers. She's also pushing to get the artisan-made Wisconsin cheeses previously sold at the store into area wineries.
Two-EE's Winery outside Roanoke and Country Heritage Winery & Vineyard in LaOtto have signed on. Customers can taste the cheese on site with wine by the glass or take home packaged cheese and a bottle for later.
“Cheese is a great snack to have with wine,” says Emily Hart Harris, who owns Two-EE's with her husband, Eric. “For the most part, all cheese pairs well with wine.
“We go through a lot of cheese here.”
Meanwhile, Swissland Cheesemaker, with a retail store at 4310 U.S. 27 in Berne, has seen its area-made cheeses paired up with wines from Satek Winery in Fremont, which sells Swissland cheeses along with its vintages, says Mary Johnson, a Swissland co-owner.
“We consider our cheeses artisanal because they're made in small batches with milk from farmers from the local area,” she says. Offerings include 30 varieties of cheddar, several kinds of havarti, mozzarella, colby, colby jack and Gouda.
Satek co-owner Jason Satek, son of Satek founder Larry Satek, considers the pairing of area wine with area cheese a natural – and a case of a swinging pendulum of taste in foods.
“One of the things you have happen as a local winery is that you get local people looking for local wines, and a lot of times they will ask about local cheeses,” he says.
“People used to want the standard – things that would be the same wherever you'd buy them. That's why McDonald's got so big,” Satek says. “Now, people are going the other way. They are trying to take in the local cuisine and the local culture and learn why things are different. They want to know the story of what they're eating and drinking.”
Hart Harris says a couple rules of thumb help make successful wine-cheese pairings. In general, she says, light wines love light cheeses, while full-bodied wines go well with full-flavored cheeses, which are often aged.
“You want to be sure that the wine doesn't overpower the cheese, or the cheese the wine,” she says.
Generally, Hart Harris adds, mold-containing cheeses – such as blue cheese – can be trickier to pair.
Nonetheless, Hart Harris says: “I've paired it with our Late Harvest Chardonnay. The richness of that cheese with the sweetness of that wine pairs very well together.”
Satek concurs on the general rule, though he's not rule-bound.
“People should drink wines that they like and eat cheeses they like, rather than pairing things they don't like for rules' sake,” he says.
Country Heritage also stocks several kinds of cheese from Guggisberg Deutsch Kase Haus in Middlebury along with a variety of fruit wines, including cranberry, blueberry, peach and strawberry, manager Jessica Whitman says.
Birali Vineyards, on the Country Meadows golf course in Fremont, doesn't sell cheese, co-owner Brian Moeller says. But he says Birali makes several estate wines – from grapes grown on the property – that customers can pair with their own choices.
Offerings include Golden Traminette and a bourbon-barrel-aged Pinot Gris, a white wine that Moeller calls “very high-octane, silky and buttery.” He adds: “It's flying out the door.”
Kroger supermarkets also are a source for Indiana-made wines.
“We sell more Indiana wines than any other retailer,” regional spokesman John Elliott says. Kroger Marketplace stores even have wine stewards who can direct customers to the vintages.
For other artisan cheeses, there's Sunny Meadow Farms in Argos. It makes cheeses using raw milk, and some are available through 3 Rivers Co-op Natural Foods & Deli, 1612 Sherman Blvd. in Fort Wayne. The co-op also sells Indiana-made cheeses from Swiss Connection in Clay City, Grassy Meadow in Howe, Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks and Traders Point in Zionsville.
The co-op also carries cheeses from perhaps the most famous Indiana artisanal cheesemaker, Capriole, which makes award-winning goat cheeses in Greenville. They're also sold online at www.capriolegoatcheese.com, where owner Judy Schad provides wine pairings.
Richardson, who has done cheese-pairing events with spirits and beer, says wine-and-cheese parties make for easy entertaining.
Even if a host doesn't use her services, it's a snap to collect some local cheeses or wines and ask guests to bring the complement, she says.
“It's really fun,” she says.